Tuesday, March 15, 2016

YCT Statement on Belief

Yeshivat Chovevei Torah President, Rabbi Asher Lopatin
A few days ago, I read a very disturbing essay on Cross-Currents. Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer discovered an essay by a Semicha student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) that said the following: 
One may still acknowledge the evolutionary nature of the Bible’s composition, and one may still recognize the archeological, philological, historical and ethnological findings that indicate the Pentateuch’s multiple authorship, while still believing (in a theological sense) in the divine unity of the Torah… The Bible is also not a work of “philosophy” or “theology” because the biblical writers were similarly unfamiliar with such logical, systematic disciplines; to impose our familiarity with these disciplines upon the biblical writers is to commit an anachronism… (Sacred Scriptures, Secular Interpretations: The Bible as an Anthology of Philosophy, Psychology, Literature, and Religion; Religious Studies Review 39:4, p. 231; http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rsr.12070/abstract)
Naturally this once again raised the prospect of heresy being tolerated by a Yeshiva whose philosophy is that of Liberal Modern Orthodoxy. (I use this term instead of Open Orthodoxy at the request of YCT President, Rabbi Asher Lopatin). As I have stated many times in the past, this is a deal breaker for me. An institution that tolerates heretical thought cannot be called Orthodox in an real sense of the word. All of the other problems with this movement, serious though they may be, pale in comparison to this.

Last time this happened it was with one of their already ordained rabbis. He too espoused such a leaning with respect to the bible critics. I was at the time assured by Rabbi Lopatin that this idea was indeed unacceptable. The concept of the Torah actually being given at Sinai was not negotiable. But it appeared from this artlce that it somehow is going to be not only tolerated, but that someone that holds these views was going to get Semicha!

I contacted Rabbi Lopatin about this and he assured me that what he said about Torah from Sinai being non negotiable was indeed the policy. He also told me that he would be looking into the matter as he takes these things very seriously.

I received the following declaration from Rabbi Lopatin that clearly deals with this issue. Although it does not deal directly with the student in question, I think it is safe to say that YCT does indeed not tolerate heresy, has in the past expelled students who had those beliefs and that they will do so in the future. This is good news. And a huge step in the right direction. I assume that this was always the unstated policy but it was very wise of them to make it formal and public. The statement follows in its entirety.

Yeshivat Chovevei Torah has always been, and continues to be, firmly committed to the meticulous observance of halakha and the foundational beliefs of our mesoret, including the belief in Torah Misinai as understood by our rabbis through the generations. Torah Misinai is a non-negotiable pillar of Orthodox belief. 

During the application process, students must affirm in writing that their observance is fully consistent with Orthodox norms and halakha, and must submit an essay reflecting on their emunot v’de’ot, and these areas are further explored in the interview process. Numerous students have been refused admission over the years because they did not meet the necessary commitment to Orthodox belief or practice. 

During their tenure at YCT, students are assessed at the end of their first and second year to determine if they will progress into the next year of their studies. These progression meetings explore the many areas that are critical for a person to be a successful Orthodox rabbi, including menschlicheit, yashrut, empathy, knowledge of Torah and halakha, teaching ability, interpersonal skills, and of course, personal belief and practice. 

Over the years, a number of students were not allowed to progress on to the next year. There were different reasons in each case, but in some of them, the reason was because the student espoused beliefs that were not consistent with Orthodoxy. 

Additionally, we give our students in our program the opportunity to ask hard questions and explore challenging ideas. This is critical to the process of developing a mature, nuanced faith, and we help students who are grappling with faith issues to develop their positions in a way that fits within traditional Orthodox belief. 

Even in his third or fourth and final year, a student may be asked to leave the Yeshiva or may be refused semikha if the situation warrants, and this has occurred one or two times in the past. Ordaining rabbis for the Jewish community is a tremendous privilege and great responsibility, one that is attested to in every part of our teaching and training of our students. Everyone, is encouraged to visit our Yeshiva and to see, with his or her own eyes, how we are truly training the next generation of Orthodox rabbis to lead Klal Yisrael.